Our city is facing a homelessness crisis. This is no surprise to anyone. Yet our elected officials have failed to respond effectively. We had a ten-year plan to end homelessness. But in 2017, over 8,500 people were homeless in Seattle, including nearly 4,000 people sleeping unsheltered. Our city administration has doubled down on ineffective policies that further destabilize our houseless neighbors and do not effectively transition people into stable housing. It’s clear we need a new path forward.
Stop the sweeps: create sanctuary spaces
The city’s policy of sweeping our houseless neighbors like garbage is inhumane, illogical and unjust. We must immediately cease the practice of forcing homeless residents to relocate themselves and all of their belongings every few weeks or even every few days. My campaign has spent the last few months working alongside residents of unauthorized homeless camps and it is clear that the city has failed in nearly every regard to serve these residents. The city disobeys its own protocols on storage of personal belongings and timely posting of removal notices. The city has ignored repeated requests from residents for trash removal and fire extinguishers, easy investments to improve livability and safety at unauthorized camps. The policy of sweeping people around and around only serves to further destabilize vulnerable people by making it far more difficult to stay connected to a case manager, mental health treatment, a job or drug treatment.
With nearly 4,000 people sleeping outside in Seattle, we must create harm reduction responses that meet basic standards of safety for all residents, housed and unhoused. Currently, the city and non-profit organizations have partnered to open six sanctioned encampments. One non-profit has housed 160 people in villages and of those, 103 people found employment and 40 people were reunited with families and support systems. We must partner with neighborhoods across the city to expand the number of sanctioned encampments, especially low-barrier encampments. Many homeless residents I have met during our campaign suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, or have other barriers to access traditional encampments. We need more low-barrier sites like the Licton Springs encampment. We should also learn from the city’s experience with the Navigation Center to proactively partner with neighborhoods.
Even with rapidly expanding access to sanctioned encampments, our city will still struggle to meet the needs of thousands of unsheltered neighbors. Until we massively expand affordable housing options, we must use harm-reduction principles to better serve those still sleeping unsheltered. We must require the city to identify available publicly owned land parcels (whether city-owned, SDOT land, or otherwise) and designate these areas as authorized places to camp. These locations would not have the same investment as a sanctioned encampment but would be provided with a minimum of trash pickup, fire extinguishers, sharps containers and portable toilets to address immediate needs for sanitation and safety.
Increase Affordable Housing Options
The root cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing options for all our neighbors. Many of our houseless neighbors work full-time but lack access to housing affordable to a minimum wage worker. Additionally, some of our unsheltered neighbors face mental health or drug addiction challenges that prevent them from accessing traditional housing options. We must expand permanent housing options across the spectrum, whether expanding workforce and low-income housing or investing in more permanent supportive housing.
My housing platform calls for raising the corporate tax rate (while raising the exemption for small businesses) to pay for a massive expansion of affordable and deeply subsidized housing. We know that relying on Seattle’s super-heated private market to house our unsheltered neighbors is a losing proposition in the long-term. That’s why we need to invest now in expanding publicly financed housing options to get people inside permanently.